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Zimbabwe lacks strong democratic institutions

By Phillip Pasirayi

A PATHOLOGICAL state that Zimbabwe has become resembles a malfunctioning country that is constituted of inherently flawed institutions incapable of delivering positiv

e economic and political goods to its citizens.

Pathology is a medical term that has of late found usage in political and governance discourse in Africa to explain the predicament of the post-colonial African state.

In my characterisation of Zimbabwe as a pathological state and a bed-ridden patient that needs the urgent attention of physicians, I borrow heavily from medical faculty because of the richness of its vocabulary and its relevance in explaining the failure by state institutions and the predatory nature of the Zanu PF regime.

The strained state/civil society relations in the country emanate from the failure by government to rule by consent as opposed to political coercion. The introduction of the draconian Non-Governmental Organisations Bill that is being fast-tracked into law and seeks to proscribe civil society groups that advocate human rights and good governance in the country represents the latest desperate attempt to cling to power by a government whose fortunes are waning.

Many a time people have complained about the use of violence as a political tool by President Mugabe and his mandarins and argue that the country is being turned into an anarchic entity where citizens are supposed to live in peace and harmony and enjoy the fruits of the hard-won independence.

There are those in Zanu PF who think that they have the divine right to rule as they please simply because of the role that was played by the Zanla forces during the liberation struggle.

What these people fail to appreciate is that the majority of Zimbabweans have every right to disobey any government that reverses the gains of the liberation struggle by introducing colonial-type legislation such as the proposed NGO Bill that seeks to criminalise exercising of constitutionally guaranteed civil and political liberties.

The proposed NGO law shows that the government has become desperate to the extent that it preys on its own citizens in an attempt to hold on to power. This predatory nature of the state which is represented in Zimbabwe in such institutions as the youths militia and the war veterans is meant to strike fear in people’s hearts so that in the process, parochial political subjects are created who do not question why the price of fuel goes up, why the price of bread continues to skyrocket and why many opposition activists die a few months after release from police custody.

Edison Mukwasi, the MDC Harare provincial youth chairperson, died in unclear circumstances in 2003 after his release from police custody and recently Tony Masera died after enduring months of incarceration in police custody.

Most of these parochial political subjects go out to vote but they are told who to vote for and at times asked to feign ignorance so that they can be “assisted” to vote by the state agents or traditional leaders who identify with the ruling party.

Whenever President Mugabe speaks at regional and international fora he talks about poverty, human insecurity, the structural inequalities and domineering in global institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, the European Union and the United Nations Security Council in the language that resonates with the struggles that are being fought by third world governments and social movements.

It is most unfortunate that those amongst us that are gullible have easily been hoodwinked into believing that President Mugabe fights for social and economic justice. The simple questions that the so-called Pan-Africanists have failed to articulate or deliberately swept under the carpet are to do with the reason why opposing Zanu PF is criminalised. To be anti-government must not be criminalised, as what the regime in Harare does, neither is it unconstitutional to oppose government.

In South Africa, Mugabe enjoys a lot of support from the uninformed leftists who think that the Zimbabwean leader is a Pan-Africanist, a revolutionary par excellence who has managed to deliver on what South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki has failed, that is to redistribute land to the landless black Africans.

The reason why South Africa’s presidency has failed to deal with the errant regime in Harare is because of the fear that the African National Congress leadership has that if they deal with Mugabe they will appear to be un-African and that any resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis will re-assert the country as a powerhouse in Southern Africa in trade, defence, tourism and food security and tilt the balance of power.

South Africa’s hegemonic foreign policy in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) which can be traced back to the apartheid era is what makes President Mbeki adopt a quiet diplomacy with regards to the Zimbabwean crisis.

The state of the nation characterised by high levels of social deprivation and the continued use of repression against opposition activists and civil society activists, represents a state of pathology that needs urgent resuscitation.

Health delivery is in a state of collapse with high levels of malnutrition in parts of Matabeleland provinces, education is on its deathbed, unemployment rife and yet the political leadership continues to sloganeer in search of votes for the March 2005 parliamentary poll.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has already declared that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change will not be allowed to sell its manifesto on the public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings. The MDC’s sin, according to the minister, is that it is a disloyal party that is bent on denigrating President Mugabe.

Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo has sacked the democratically elected MDC councillors and mayors and appointed dubious commissioners to run the city of Harare against the people’s wishes. So what democracy is there in expelling elected representatives and have them replaced by Zanu PF ideologues?

The March poll is a meaningless one and if the MDC participates in this election in the absence of equal access to public electronic media, the result will be calamitous and hard to bear for the party. The majority of rural voters in Zimbabwe depend on the radio and television to make decisions as to who or who not to vote for.

So, for Zimbabwe it is only through the restoration of democratic rule and the setting up of viable political institutions that the imminent collapse of the social services sector, especially health, education, housing and food insecurity, can be averted.

*Phillip Pasirayi is a researcher on international relations, media and governance.

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